14/3, bogie 14

Jagriti Yatra Special Train

I miss home.

The Jagriti Yatra 2011 took us around the country, 7500 kms to be precise with 450 like minded people on a train that was modified to be our home for the duration of the journey. We walked in to the train like strangers and 15 days and 11 destinations later, we walked out the best of friends.

7500 kms; 450 people; 11 destinations; 1 country

Do the Math.

A night before the yatra, I will admit that I wasn’t too excited. The had just met 75 of the coolest people on the planet and their stories during the introduction session made me feel like a worm because they had done things  in their lives which I could only dream of doing ever.in.my.life. A part of me questioned what the hell was I doing in that room with those wonderful people, without a value add to them at all.  I was sceptical about my role in the journey. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to be on the Yatra just as a learner to assimilate all the traseures that I was going to unearth on the train.

The aim of the Yatra is to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit in the youth of India, making them job creators instead of job seekers. For this they take this 450 young people across India and make them meet entrepreneurs who have started their own ventures and have been reasonably successful in them. Although all these “role models” as they are called have made their way in the social development arena, the yatra aims you to look beyond and above this arena.

The target segment is the  youth of “middle India” whose aspirations are a little higher than securing two square meals a day. The aim is to make them believe that their aspirations are realisable. That their dreams do not need a miracle to become reality – that they are miracles in their own special self. The Hindu Philosophy says that the self is as limitless as the world outside; the Yatra turns it on its head – by taking you across the country and making you meet normal people who are doing wonderfully awesome work it makes you realise that the world outside is as limitless and as full of opportunities as the dreams and aspirations you carry within.

The physical aspect of the journey is a lot of things to people. For some it’s inspiring, for some it’s humbling and for many of us on the train, sometimes, it is even irritating. It brings into perspective a lot of things we know and not know about ourselves. It breaks the myth you might have carried with you all your lives and almost accepted as a part of your personality. Quite simply, it asks you, “Are you the one whom you think you are or are you someone else?”.

In a nutshell, Jagriti Yatra makes you travel, it makes you meet different role models and gives you a chance to see your dreams take the shape of reality. It makes you design business models and promises to fund them if they are good. It brings together the heaven and holy earth in trying to make you an entrepreneur and succeeds in it to a reasonably fair level. It gives you a chance to stretch yourself in that cramped train where every inch of extra space is a blessing.

But for me, the Yatra was all this and nothing of this. Not this, not that.

In my opinion, the role model visits on the Yatra were a peripheral but necessary device on the train and played the part that education plays in our lives. It acts as a reason for our interactions, our experiences but never becomes the central part of our existence. On the contrary our existence is determined by our experiences – good or bad that happen as we go through the course of our lives. What Jagriti Yatra 2011 did was to put the best minds in the country (almost :P), who had a similar aim in their lives, in a very small space, in a very different time and space continuum and allowed them to interact freely. Almost everyone on the train worshipped the idea of ‘free thinking’ like a tribe worships its totem; many of them had already carved the path of being different from the rest of the humanity. They favoured their passions more than they favoured the good life and interactions between such people created what I will term as the real spirit of the Yatra.

It gave us a community where no one was a stranger so even though I was apprehensive about making the first move in talking to people, I did that reasonably well on the Yatra because we were all a part of the same communities of Yatris. I did not feel very weird when people came up to speak to me either (as I generally do), because at the end of it – we were all Yatris! It was not a 100 percent of course, but the shared sense of community was overwhelming. It was a comfortable eco-system where having a different dream, a crazy idea was not a problem. In fact, it was accepted as a part of who you were.

Jagriti Yatra makes conversations happen. It makes you open up your heart to people because you realise that somewhere down the line they are just like you. Problems become normative and entities which don’t bother us anymore. When problems become normative, the mundane is left behind. Ideas begin to emerge from this newly created conditions because now we all rise up together on a higher level where the ordinary has no place to be in. Being on this journey makes you want to break existent structures, to be abstract, to flow where the tide has never flown before. This is why I laugh inside when people argue that we should set up standard operating procedures for activities on the train and for the role model visit. The idea is to break the mould, stupid, not create another one! For safety procedures, yes; but structuring any other aspect of the train would be suicidal because at the end of the day the aim is to ignite the spirit of entrepreneurship not develop an SOP on “how to be an entrepreneur”.

The aim is to question, to enable oneself to take risks, to debate out ideas, to open your minds to different perspectives. To see the world where all kinds of people and their ideas exist. The aim is to break-free. RIGHT NOW. So if you are on the Yatra so that you come out all knowledgeable about “how to be an entrepreneur”, this is not the place for you. This is the place for you if you can and are willing to open yourself inside out and analyze your seams.

A conversation, one story can change your life on this journey. I met a man who gave up his high paying MNC jobs because he couldn’t take the growing distance between him and his village friends. Now he lives in the village and has opened a tech-company with his same villager friends and they work on the computers and field together. And this is just one of the stories. I don’t think I will ever be able to use the word impossible in my life now.

Wherever you are in your life, physically and mentally, get on that train and shatter a few inhibitions. Look up Jagriti Yatra on the internet and feel free to become a “Yatri” for a lifetime.